Musical Instruments in Worship

“And he set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by his prophets.”

2 Chron. 29:25

“Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices…  Which stood only in… carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.  But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands…”

Heb. 9:9-11

“By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”

Heb. 13:15

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Subsections

John Calvin on Musical Instruments in Worship

The Westminster Confession and Musical Instruments in Worship

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Order of Contents

Introduction & Where to Start?
Are Musical Instruments in Worship a Big Deal?
Articles  (18)
Are Musical Instruments Circumstances of Worship?
Books  (17)
The History of Instruments in Worship
Confessions  (3)
Individual Quotes
Do Instruments in Worship Justify Separation from such Worship?


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Introduction & Where to Start?

Introduction

Most presbyterian, congregationalist and baptist churches from the Reformation till around the late-1800’s did not use musical instruments in worship, on principle.  Wonder why?

It was due to a close application of the Regulative Principle of Worship, that we are only to worship God in the way that He prescribes in Scripture.  While in the Old Testament, God, through prophets, prescribed certain instruments to be played by set-apart, male Levites, 30-50 years old, only, in very specific, regulated ways in the Temple services, those carnal, Temple rites, and that which was peculiarly Levitical, have ceased (according to Hebrews) upon Christ’s coming in the New Testament era.

The Greek word used in the New Testament for exhorting us ‘to sing psalms’ (psallo), does not inherently mean to do so with instruments, and quite often does not.  Further, there are no traces in the New Testament of the historic, apostolic Church using instruments in worship.  Nor can instruments be held to be an aid in worship that is purely indifferent, as is demonstrated in a subsection below.

Thus we are left singing with ‘the fruit of our lips’, which is the simple, spiritual worship that is so characteristic of the New Testament.

To find out the many, detailed and cogent, Biblical reasons for the majority, reformed view of the Reformation, and to find answers for any remaining questions or objections that may yet linger in your mind, take your time in perusing the resources below; and don’t rest until your conscience is fully and intelligently satisfied before God.

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Where to Start?

Article

Williamson, G.I. – ‘Instrumental Music in Worship: Commanded or Not Commanded?’  n.d.  28 paragraphs  from The Biblical Doctrine of Worship

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Book

Schwertley, Brian – Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God  Buy  1996  84 pp.

An excellent, exhaustive, Biblical defense of a capella praise.  The first part of the book surveys the Regulative Principle of Worship.  If you are familiar with that, and committed to it, begin at p. 32 where Schwertley brings in the question of musical instruments in the praise of God.

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Classical & Early Church History

Ferguson, Everett – A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church  Buy

Ferguson, a renowned early Church historian, gives the most exhaustive survey available of the ancient world, the New Testament era and the Early Church era on the Greek words for singing that are claimed to inherently imply musical instrumentation.  In demonstrating that they do not, he also sets forth the dominance of a cappella singing in the early Church and the middle ages.

After all, ‘a cappella’ originally meant, ‘from the chapel’, as the chapel traditionally sang without instrumentation.  While this short book is second to none on linguistics and history, it is weak on theology.

While this book is highly recommended, the distinctives of the Campbellite Churches of Christ, with which Ferguson was associated, are not.  Interestingly, the Campbellites received their practice and viewpoint against musical instruments in worship from their previous Scottish presbyterian heritage.

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Reformed History

Schwertley, Brian – Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God: the Historical Evidence  Buy  2003  19 pp.

This is an anthology of 85 quotes from church history (mostly reformed church history) demonstrating its large opposition to musical instruments in worship.


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Are Musical Instruments in Worship a Big Deal?

Robert Candlish, of the Free Church of Scotland

as quoted in James Gibson’s, The Public Worship of God, 1869, p. 107

“I believe that it is a question which touches some of the highest and deepest points of Christian theology.  

Is the temple destroyed?  Is the temple worship wholly superseded?  Have we, or have we not, priests and sacrifices among us now?  Is the temple or the synagogue the model on which the Church of the New Testament is formed?  Does the Old Testament itself point to anything but ‘the fruit of the lips’ [Heb. 13:15] as the peace-offering or thank-offering of gospel times?  Is there a trace in the New Testament of any other mode of praise?

For my part I am persuaded that if the organ be admitted, there is no barrier, in principle, against the sacerdotal system in all its fullness — against the substitution again, in our whole religion, of the formal for the spiritual, the symbolic for the real.” 

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Matthew Poole, a puritan

Evangelical Worship is Spiritual Worship as it was Discussed in a Sermon  1660  pp. 13-14

II. A Voluntate Dei, ‘from the will of God’.  This is the other reason: ‘For the Father seeks such to worship Him.’ [Jn. 4:23 God requires such worship and worshippers.  

The foundation of this reason is this: The rule of worship is not mans fancy, but God’s will: Men’s fancies and wills are infinitely various, and therefore those that have gone that way, have been divided into a thousand varieties; they worship they know not what, as v. 22.  Only God’s will is the stable rule: None knows the mind of God but the Spirit of God: Now this is the worship God requires in Gospel times.

Argument Second:  From the end [design] of worship.  Look what the ends of worship are, such must the worship be: And that was the reason why the Jewish worship was so much typical, because the end of it was to represent Christ; And that end being now attained, and Christ exhibited [revealed], we must consider what were and are the further ends of worship.  Now the ends are of two sorts.

1. In reference to God.
2. In reference to men.

And both will show us that the worship must be spiritual.

I. In relation to God; so it is double:

1. To please God: this is finis operis & operantis too [‘the end of the work, and of working’], (if a man be sincere) Ps. 19:14, ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight.’  Now it is only spiritual worship that can please God: That man does but little consider the nature of God, that thinks God is pleased with the bowing of the knee to an altar, no, it is the bending of the heart that God respects.  It is not an organ in a church, but the organ of a gracious heart, and melody in the heart that pleases God.

2.  To exalt God amongst men, to render Him glorious in the eyes of the world: Now how is that done?  Do you think that it makes God glorious, when men seek to honor Him with bodily and external services?  No, you cannot dishonor God more than by giving Him such a worship as begets a carnal representation of God, etc.  And when God would set Himself forth in his glory, He represents Himself in a spiritual manner, and He takes them off from all corporeal thoughts and fancies: ‘God is a Spirit.’  ‘To whom will you liken Me?’  ‘You saw no shape.’  ‘God dwells not in temples made with hands.’

II.  In reference to men; so the ends of worship are purely spiritual: such as these (for I can but name them) the elevation of the soul to God, and its assimilation to Him, the union of man with his Creator, the supply of the soul’s spiritual necessities, and the conduct of a sinner to glory, and all these are spiritual works, and to be done by spiritual helps, and therefore evangelical worship must be spiritual worship.”

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Articles

1800’s

Blaikie, Alexander – ‘The Manner of Praise’  1849  being ch. 3 of A Catechism of Praise

Blaikie was a minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Boston.  The denomination was a merger in America of the Scottish Seceders and the Reformed Presbyterians.  His book is a classic.

Dabney, Robert

‘Against Musical Instruments in Public Worship’  1849/1888, includes 2 pieces, one a Review of Dr. John L. Girardeau’s Instrumental Music in Public Worship

Dabney was one of the last American presbyterian stalwarts that upheld the majority historic reformed view against using musical instruments in the worship of God, as instruments were minutely regulated by God’s express command in scripture and inherently tied to the OT temple administration which is now done away with.

Myers, Andrew – ‘Architect of Orthodoxy’  2010  11 paragraphs

Dabney, besides a pastor and theologian, was also an architect.  He built multiple buildings for churches designed to keep an organ out.

Breckinridge, R.J. – A Protest Against the Use of Instrumental Music in the Stated Worship of God  1856  12 pp.

Breckinridge was a Southern presbyterian.

Hislop, Alexander – ‘The Instrumental Music of Judaism’  1858  2 large paragraphs  being an Appendix to The Scriptural Principles of the Solemn League and Covenant, in their Bearing on the Present State of the Episcopal Churches  See near the bottom of the page for the appendix.  There is also a large paragraph devoted to musical instruments in worship near the beginning of ch. 1.

Hislop (1807-1865) was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland.

Brown, Hugh – ‘A Discourse Against Instrumental Music in Public Worship’  1859  90 paragraphs

Brown (1810-1888) was a minister of the United Presbyterian Church in New York.

Robertson, W. – ‘The Organ Question’  1868  95 paragraphs

This pamphlet is the substance of two lectures given in connection with the agitation by some in order to introduce an organ into the worship of God.  In 1873, five years after these lectures, the pro-organ party carried the day and an organ was introduced into the worship of Coupland Street United Presbyterian Church, Manchester, England.

Gibson, James – ‘Instrumental Music’  1869  23 pp.  being a chapter from his The Public Worship of God

This chapter argues against the introduction of musical instruments in the public worship of the Free Church of Scotland (for which church Gibson was a systematic theology professor).  He critiques Robert Candlish and Robert Buchanan who left the matter as an open question.

Johnson, Robert – A Discourse on Instrumental Music in Public Worship  1871

Johnson (1810-1879) was a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Iowa.  This is an extremely well reasoned defense of the anti-instrumentalist position in which he engages several well known objections and examines the plausibility of the arguments of those who would introduce these instruments into the worship of God.

Hutcheson, R. – Instrumental Music in New Testament Worship, pt. 1, 2, 3  1872  in The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter

Begg, James, the Younger

The Use of Organs and other Instruments of Music in Christian Worship Indefensible  Buy  1866  271 pp.

‘Instrumental Music in Christian Worship Unlawful’  Buy  1870  24 pp.  Here is a review in the Original Secession Magazine

Anarchy in Worship, or Recent Innovations Contrasted with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church and the Vows of her Office Bearers  n.d.  48 pp.

Begg the younger was a leading constitutionalist in the Free Church of Scotland.

‘Special Duties and Dangers of the Free Church of Scotland’  being the closing address of Free Church Presbyterianism   There is a subsection on ‘NEW STRUGGLE FOR PURITY OF WORSHIP — INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC’ about 2/5 the way down the page

Nevin, Robert – Instrumental Music in Christian Worship: A Review Chiefly in the Way of Reply to Professor Wallace  Buy  16 pp.  Here is an excerpt.  Here is a review.

Wishart, William – Psallo  1882  32 paragraphs  from the Evangelical Repository

Wishart (1821-1906).  This article examines the claims of proponents of musical instruments in worship taken from the meaning of the Greek word ‘psallo’.   Dr. Wishart explains why psallo does not provide Biblical support for the use of mechanical instruments of worship.

A Disruption Elder – ‘The Organ Question Critically Examined’  1884  12 pp.

The author was an elder during the Disruption of 1843 where the Free Church of Scotland continued as the legal and spiritual heir of the Church of Scotland from the Reformation.  The late-1800’s saw musical instruments starting to come into the Free Church, till they were later excised in the events of 1900.

Kennedy, John – The Introduction of Instrumental Music into the Worship of the Free Church Unscriptural, Unconstitutional and Inexpedient  n.d.  29 paragraphs

M’Donald, John – Instrumental Music in Religious Worship  n.d.  4 pp.

M’Donald (1843-1933) was a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Synod, which published this tract in the 19th century.

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2000’s

Freeman, Brad – Why not Instruments in Worship?  2014  7 pp.

Rev. Freeman is a minister in the Presbyterian Reformed Church in America.

Watkins, K.M. – ‘Musical Instruments in Worship’  n.d.  11 pp.

Rev. Watkins is a Free Presbyterian minister in Vancouver, Canada.  This is a transcript of a lecture on ‘An historical and biblical survey of musical instruments in Christian worship’


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Are Musical Instruments Circumstances of Worship?

Intro

‘Circumstances’ are indifferent things relating to the worship of God, not having religious significance or entering into the element of worship itself, that do not need warrant from God’s Word to be used.  Westminster Confession (1646), 1.6:

“…there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.”

The Early Church and the majority of reformed history from the Reformation to the late-1800’s, de facto in their practice and in their exclusion of instruments from the worship of God, did not believe that instruments fell under the category of indifferent circumstances, nor had the nature of them.

Read below to find out why.

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Articles

1800’s

Girardeau, John – Are Musical Instruments Circumstances of Worship? Part 1 & Part 2  p. 136 ff. & 188 ff., 18 & 11 pp. respectively, from his Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church

Harper, James – ‘Instruments of Music not an Incident of Worship’  1883  16 pp.  in Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God, p 102-118

Carson, J.G. – pp. 42-45 of Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God  1883  4 pp.

Glasgow, James – ‘Section II – Second Counter-proof’  n.d.  9 pp.  in Heart and Voice: Instrumental Music in Christian Worship not Divinely Authorized, pp. 241-249

Begg, James – ‘Instruments Not Necessary in Singing’  being Appendix no. VI in The Use of Organs and Other Instruments of Music in Christian Music, pp. 270-1

While the premise of the article is self-evidently true to anyone who sings ‘Happy Birthday to You’ without instruments, because people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ so poorly these days, the premise is worth spelling out.

Not only is it possible to sing without instruments (as many congregations throughout the world do), but those who sing a capella are almost always better singers than those who sing with instruments, precisely because:

(1) they are not trained to be dependent on instruments,
(2) there is no instrument to cover up and endlessly continue bad singing, and
(3) lack of instruments allows for hearing the voice better in order that both ear and voice, of necessity, improve together.

People spend years training themselves to play instruments well and many public schools require children to play instruments in their education, and will not persons put forth a bit of effort to improve their singing to God?

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1900’s

Schwertley, Brian – p. 52 of Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God  1999  1 p.

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2000’s

Clark, R. Scott

‘Could Instruments be Idols?’  2008  6 paragraphs

‘On Elements and Circumstances’  2008  8 pa

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On Circumstances in General

Bannerman, James – pp. 354-358 of The Church of Christ, vol. 1, Division II, Chapter II, ‘Rites and Ceremonies in Public Worship’

Bannerman, of the Free Church of Scotland, in his classic work on the Church, summarizes the three principles of George Gillespie in what defines a ‘circumstance’.  Circumstances must:

1. ‘only be a circumstance of divine worship, and no substantial part of it–no sacred, significant, efficacious ceremony;’

2. ‘be such as are not determinable by Scripture;’

3. be those for the appointment of which she is ‘able to give a sufficient reason and warrant.’

Musical instruments break all three of these principles as:

(1) they are often considered spiritually significant in the service and to people’s faith; and where they are not, yet they inevitably, by their nature, form a substantial part of the worship service and the total offering of the praise of the Church (see James Harper’s quote below, and R. Scott Clark’s article above).

(2) musical instruments in worship are determinable by Scripture.  They were elements of worship in the Old Testament, being regulated by God, they necessarily having the nature of things not circumstantial to worship, but parts thereof.

(3) a sufficient reason and warrant cannot be given for the inclusion of musical instruments in worship as they are not necessary to the element itself: of singing Psalms.

While Gillespie’s context is discussing circumstances that the Church has lawful power to bind, whereas most Churches today do not legislate that musical instruments must be used, but only that they may be used, yet many local churches do bind that they be used and when they are used in worship, musical instrumentation necessarily binds the consciences of all the worshippers as the music thereof necessarily enters as a substantial part into the praise of all, and persons cannot sing to God with the fruit of their lips without music from those instruments; and yet persons are morally obligated to attend the regular Lord’s Day public worship of the Church.

Hence Gillespie’s discussion on which circumstances the Church has authority to bind, is very relevant.

Gillespie, George – pp. 130-136 of English-Popish Ceremonies, Part 3, Chapter 7, Sections 5-7 ff. 

See Bannerman above for a summary.  For Gillespie’s discussion of things that are not ‘circumstances’, but are purely indifferent, see the Fourth Part of his work.

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Quotes

1800’s

William Cunningham, Theological Lectures, Lecture 40, pp. 493-4

But there is a fundamental difference between this reasonable and necessary principle of regulating, so far as may be necessary for securing decency and order, some circumstances in the mode of doing those things which God has authorized and required to be done, and the arbitrary introduction into the worship and government of the church of new and distinct things unsanctioned by Scripture, because men in their wisdom imagine, or profess to imagine, that they are fitted to promote decency and good order.  The circumstances referred to in the Confession, judging from the principles that have been usually held by Presbyterians upon this subject, are such as these provisions and arrangements concerning the external conveniences for and the necessary accompaniments of the worship of God and the government of the church; the time, place, and manner of meeting for the administration of the public worship of God; the most convenient way of administering public ordinances so as to promote general comfort and decency, without pretending to introduce new things professedly for the purpose of making them more solemn and impressive, or presuming to omit anything which God’s word sanctions or enjoins…

Singing of psalms is authorized in Scripture as a part of the public worship of God, and therefore some circumstances connected with the singing of psalms which it may be necessary, from a regard to decency and order, to regulate, may be regulated by the church; but this affords no warrant for introducing an entirely distinct or different thing, in order, it is said, to heighten the devotion by instrumental music.  It may be contended, indeed, that the introduction of instrumental music is merely a regulation of the mode of performing the unquestionable duty of singing psalms.  This seems to be rather a lax use of words; and besides, experience seems to show that the introduction of this invention of man, in place of aiding or assisting, has a powerful tendency to exclude or to put an end to the practice of singing psalms by the congregation, which God has unquestionably sanctioned and required.

James Harper, Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God  1883

p. 109

The ‘incidental’ theory as to instrumental music, we feel confident found no place for at least several centuries in the Church of Christ after its New Testament organization…

…the ‘incidental’ theory is of modern origin, or at least only of late years has obtained any prominence.  In days long past, there were discussions, keen and learned, as to the propriety of using instrumental music in worship, but the advocates of that practice were wont to plead either that it was prescribed, or that it was clearly commended in Scripture, or that the Church was vested with authority to decree rites not expressly forbidden, and might therefore might employ as an aid or embellishment of its worship instrumental music.

Even so late as the time of Dr. [Robert] Candlish, of Edinburgh [of the Free Church of Scotland], whose life was bounded by the years of 1807 and 1873, the notion that instrumental music is an incident on a par with a tuning fork, though it had been mooted, was deemed so crude and absurd, that, acute thinker as he was, he declared that the man who seriously propounded such a view was not fit to be reasoned with.

p. 112-115

…the argument of common sense, alleging that instrumental music when used with vocal song, and blending with it, forms an integral part of the entire offering made to God in the way of praise.

Notice how cautiously the clause in the [Westminster] Confession [1.6] is worded.  Instead of the phrase ‘circumstances of worship’, which might be understood to mean things involved in, or blended with, the worship, the language used is, ‘circumstances concerning worship’…

Now it seems clear that, so far as regards, worship, the ‘circumstances’ contemplated in this clause of the Confession are distinguishable by these two marks, namely:

1. They are only circumstances concerning worship, not elements or parts of it.

First.  Is instrumental music, when employed in connection with worship, any part or element of the worship? or is it a mere circumstance concerning it?

So far from forming no part or ingredient of the worship, instrumental music, when used, is always an obvious, and in most cases an obtrusive and dominant element of it.  We may venture to say that no man, unwarped by theory or the desire to gratify a taste, would form any other judgment.

So far as the external service is concerned, the combined volume of music, instrumental and vocal, married to certain words, is the offering which, in the case supposed, the worshipper presents to God.

Unlike the preparatory use of a tuning fork, or the silent unnoticeable use of musical notation, the instrumental music audibly pervades from beginning to end the service in which it is employed, and as really as the vocal, with which it unites, is to be deemed a part of the service.

To any who can be present in a worshipping assembly where instruments are brought into use, and not feel the truth of our position, it is difficult to carry conviction by any process of reasoning, just as it is difficult if not absurd, to reason with anyone who stoutly repudiates the evidence of his senses as to the existence of an external world.

Is not the use of the voice in praising God a form or mode of worship?  And is not instrumental music, when used in combination with vocal music, a form of worship also, or a mode of expressing homage to God?  Why should the one be called a form or mode of worship, and the other not?

If a stranger to our religion were to enter a church while the service of praise in vocal instrumental music was in progress, would he not inevitably conclude that it is a part of our religion to play to God as well as sing to Him?

Then, when to all this is added the consideration, that music of an instrumental sort was once appointed by God as a substantive part of the forms to be employed in his worship, the conviction is forced upon us that such music, if used now, constitutes a mode or form in which men express to God their praises.  But if this music is a part or element of the worship, it is not one of the circumstances contemplated in the clause under which instrumentalists take shelter, and cannot be allowed under cover of that clause.

Littell, D.S., Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God, 1883, p. 54

“What is admitted by some hair-splitting distinction, as incident or circumstance, a distinction it takes learned doctors two years to elaborate, goes to the people, and with them becomes worship, takes the place of simple and spiritual worship.  Misled by their spiritual guides, they practice or enjoy music, and think that worship.

Have you not heard of Christians, not very ignorant, who were ‘carried to the very gates of heaven’ by an instrumental voluntary?  When you have given that delicate infant spiritual worship, a Corliss engine [organ] to cut its teeth on, the probably, nay, certain result is, that the infant will have the breath knocked out of it, and the engine will go on.

Paul, who admits doctrinally, that circumcision has no spiritual effect, who for social reasons, ‘because of the Jews who were in those quarters’ circumcised Timothy, yet utterly refused to do the same in the case of Titus.  The doctrinal results are too dangerous.  ‘To whom we gave place by subjugation, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”

W.W. Barr, Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God, 1883, p. 21

“…no one, at least, who adopts the theory that instrumental music is a ‘circumstance’ of worship to be determined, not by written revelation, but by the light of nature, can fairly doubt on this point any longer.  The apostles give us instances and examples of worship, instances and examples of singing praise, but there is not a shadow of evidence that an instrument of music was used by any individuals, families or congregations in the worship of God.”

Kennedy, D.S., Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God, 1883, p. 67-68

“Forbear!  Forbear!  It’s a little one!  ‘A non-essential!’  ‘A circumstance!’  Only an ‘incident’!  It’s popular, many of us like it, ‘and want it, and will have it’…”

Shall we set the sails and send the church of Christ to sea, before the pleasant breezes of culture, tastes, preferences and aesthetics, knowing the terrific gale soon to blow, and before which our ecclesiastical ship is doomed to flounder?…  Our responsibilities extend to the incidents as well to the essentials…

Robert Candlish

As quoted in this article.

[After making the supposition that a Presbyterian Church might come to the conclusion that the question be left an open one, and that kirk-sessions and congregations should be allowed to exercise their discretion in regard to it, he adds:]

‘It is manifest, however, that this is a conclusion which could satisfy none but those who either approve of instrumental music, or reckon it a matter of indifference.  All who are conscientiously opposed to it – who regard it as inexpedient and unlawful, unauthorised, and unscriptural – must feel themselves bound, as Presbyterians, to do their utmost against a proposal to have it even tolerated.  In their own judgment it is an act of will worship; and there is no plea of conscience on the other side to which they might be bound to let their own judgment defer.’

‘It is enough to say that it [tolerating both sides of the practice] is inconsistent with Presbyterianism.  Those Presbyterians who disapprove on conscientious and scriptural grounds of a particular mode of worship – as, for instance, of the organ – cannot divest themselves of responsibility by merely excluding it from their own congregations.  They are bound to resist the introduction of it in all the congregations of the Church, as well as in their own.’

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2000’s

Watkins, K.M.

‘Musical Instruments in Worship’, p. 10

Fifthly, some consider instruments to be a mere circumstance rather than a real element of worship, so the Church can use them or not, as it sees fit. That there are such circumstances the Westminster Confession acknowledges: “There are some circumstances concerning the worship of God . . . common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed” (1:6).

However, God did not treat instruments as mere circumstances. They had no place in Old Testament worship until He put them in it by His express command. And He has never put them into New Testament worship. Plus, to class something as a mere circumstance rather than an element of worship, it must be common to human society and necessary. Appointing a suitable time and place to meet for public worship is a circumstance of worship, because without that no gathering of people could be possible, and is done for all orderly public meetings. But singing with instruments is not necessary: it may be done, but it does not need to be done.

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Brad Freeman

Why Not Instruments In Worship?, V. A Common Reason Answered

            There are many who consider the use of instruments as merely an aid to singing.  If Christians are commanded to sing in worship, what is wrong with using an instrument to assist the voice in carrying the tune? After all, it is argued, without an instrument to assist, many would not be able to sing the tunes properly.  In other words, instruments have become a necessary aid to the practice of a Scriptural element of worship, as if congregational singing is impossible or impractical without mechanical help.  Looking at it this way, some argue that instruments are a circumstance to worship, not an element regulated by Scripture, much like the building, what pulpit is used, and other things common to any kind of meeting.

            Even if instrumental music could be considered as an aid to worship, the Lord still strictly controls what aids are allowed in His worship.  The Israelites, in their zeal to offer to the Lord true worship, nevertheless committed idolatry when they forged the golden calf at Sinai to magnify the great power of God.  They weren’t blind pagans; they intended to worship the God of Israel, not some pagan deity.  But in their desire for an aid to worship, they sinned and instead provoked the wrath of God.  To them the golden calf was an aid to worship that they thought the Lord would have allowed, but to the Lord it was an unauthorized aid that He abhorred. In matters of worship, both reason and the will of man is a fatal guide.  We would do well to remember the words of Solomon in Prov. 16:25, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

            In relation to Christian conscience, we must realize that employing instruments treads on the liberty of conscience Christ purchased for all His saints.  On the other hand, since it can’t be demonstrated that instruments are expressly commanded in worship, no harm is done to any conscience where instruments are prohibited and the unity of the Spirit can be maintained in the bond of peace.


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Books

1600’s

A Letter to a Friend in the Country, Concerning the Use of Instrumental Music in the Worship of God, in Answer to Mr. Newte’s Sermon… on the Occasion of an Organ being Erected in that Parish  1698  96 pp.

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1700’s

Anonymous – An Essay Upon the Sacred Use of Organs in Christian Assemblies  1713  74 pp.   with a Preliminary Discourse on Ritualism by Robert Williamson, 1865

A very instructive essay which explains the rise of the use of musical instruments and the reason their use was discontinued in the best Reformed churches.

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1800’s

The Organ Question: Statements of Dr. Ritchie and Dr. Porteous, For and Against the Use of the Organ in Public Worship in the Procedings of the Presbytery of Glasgow, 1807-1808  with an Introductory Notice by Robert Candlish of the Free Church of Scotland

Porteous, on p. 27 argues (for 48 pp.) against the organ.

Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, ‘Musical Instruments in Worship’, p. 616:

“The first recorded incident of a musical instrument being used in Presbyterian worship [in Scotland since the Reformation] was in 1807, when William Ritchie, minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Glasgow, introduced a chamber organ.  The Lord Provost of the city reported the matter to the presbytery, which declared organ music in worship to be ‘contrary to the law of the land, and to the law and constitution of our Established Church’ (quoted R.S. Candlish, The Organ Question, E, 1856, 26).”

Hector Cameron in ed. Graham, Crown Him Lord of All, p. 65

“There was a remarkable degree of theological opposition to musical instruments in worship, among Disruption men [of the Free Church of Scotland], as distinct from a merely traditional conviction that the old way of things was better.  This was party due, there can be no question, to the publication by Dr. Candlish in 1856 of Dr. Porteous’s able defence–in the name of the Glasgow Presbytery–of the Reformed objection to instrumental music in worship.  Dr. Porteous was replying to the action of the St. Andrew’s Congregation in Glasgow, who had in 1807, without even consulting Presbytery, installed an organ in their church.  Candlish’s warm introductory commendation of the book sent it on its way with superbly attractive credentials, especially for the emerging generation of Free Churchmen.

Porteous drew substantially on the view of the Reformers, although he conducted a wider and very informative historical study of the subject.  Luther is quoted as exclaiming that ‘organs are among the ensigns of Baal! [p. 44, quoted by Eckhard in Vide Eckhard Fasciculus Contra Tho.]  Calvin’s opinions are extensively consulted…  The younger Disruption men were directed back to their origins with undoubtedly good effect.”

Begg, James, the Elder – A Treatise on the Use of Organs and Other Instruments of Music in the Worship of God, in which it is Inquired Whether Instrumental Music be Authorized by God in the Worship of the New Testament Church, and by the Constitution and Laws of the Established Church of Scotland   1808  56 pp.  The table of contents is on what would be p. 13.

Begg the Elder, a minister in the Church of Scotland, was the father of the more well known James Begg the Younger who was a Disruption Worthy and minister and constitutionalist leader in the Free Church of Scotland.

A Statement of the Proceedings of the Presbytery of Glasgow Relative to the Use of an Organ in St. Andrew’s Church in the Public Worship of God  1807  300 pp.  Here is the American Edition with a unique Preface and Appendix.

Adamson, John – The Unlawfulness of Instrumental Music in the Worship of God: Stated in a Letter to a Friend in Defence of A Few Candid Reasons… , Against the Mistakes and Representations of Mr. J. Bedford…  1823  102 pp.

Christie, George – The Use of Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of God  1867  24 pp. printed in Nova Scotia, Canada.  The work is in the form of a dialogue

Canada Presbyterian Church – The Organ Question: Line upon Line, or Instrumental Music in Presbyterian Churches; Reports of Discussions in the Courts of the Canada Presbyterian Church in 1867  1868  60 pp.

Johnson, Robert – A Discourse on Instrumental Music in Public Worship  1871

Johnson was a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Iowa.

Robb, J. Gardner – Christian Worship, Praise Pure and Perfect Without Instrumental Music: A Review of the Pamphlet by Professor Wallace, Entitled, Instrumental Music: Its Place in the Worship of God the Same Under All Dispensations  1872  48 pp.

Kerr, James – The Fruit of Our Lips: Instrumental Music an Unscriptural Addition to the Service of Praise  1877  Here is the work’s outline.

Proceedings of the Convention of United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God  1883  170 pp.

This book is excellent, and is worth reading through.  Wit the onset of organs coming into churches, in 1880, legislation failed to pass to outlaw musical instruments from the Church’s public worship.  At the General Assembly in the spring of 1883, it was ruled that instruments were an ‘incident’, or circumstance of worship, which need not be proved by God’s Word.

This convention by the conservatives was held in August to continue the protests that were petitioned at the foresaid Assembly.  The addresses and results were published in book form.

Table of Contents

Proceedings of the United Presbyterian Convention  3

History of the Doctrine & Service of Praise as it Relates to the U.P.C. – G.C. Vincent  9

The History of the Introduction of Instruments in the Reformed Churches – W.W. Barr  20

The Exclusiveness of Divine Authority – J.G. Carson  37

What the Grounds of Convictions?  Can We Yield Them? – D.S. Littell  46

Powers & Duties of the General Assembly – D.S. Kennedy  56

The Judgment of the Church in 1882 on Instrumental Music – D.N. Dick  71

Reason Why We Should Not Take a Step Toward Ritualism – S.F. Marrow  77

The Simplicity of Worship Required in the New Testament Church – D.W. Carson  84

Instrumental Worship not an Incident of Worship – James Harper  102

Forbearance in Love.  When Applicable?  – James Lytle  119

Actualities and Possibilities of Mischief in the U.P.C. – R.A. Browne  132

Our Only Need as a Church for Mission Work – James Brown  141

Summary of Arguments Against Instrumental Music in the Testament Worship – William Wishart  150

Report of Committee on Resolutions  157

M’Ewan, John – Instrumental Music: A Consideration of the Arguments For and Against its Introduction into the Worship of the Free Church of Scotland  1883  with a preface by George Smeaton

Rev. John M’Ewan was minister of John Knox Free Church in Edinburgh.

Girardeau, John – Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church  Buy  1888  208 pp.

The classic book length Biblical defense against musical instruments in worship.  This was written at a time when the presbyterian churches were capitulating to Anglican worship practices.  Girardeau was one of the last of the faithful ministers to uphold the old historic reformed view and practice.

Glasgow, James – Heart and Voice: Instrumental Music in Christian Worship not Divinely Authorized  n.d.  275 pp.  Here is a review.

Glasgow was an Irish presbyterian, professor of oriental languages, and at one time a missionary with Alexander Kerr to India.  He also wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation.

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1900’s

Kurfees, M.C. – Instrumental Music in the Worship, or the Greek Verb ‘Psallo’ Philologically and Historically Examined  1911  128 pp.

While the information in this book is very useful, Kurfees was a leader in the Campbellite Churches of Christ, whose distinctives in general are not recommended.  Interestingly though, the Campbellites received their practice and viewpoint against musical instruments in worship from their previous Scottish presbyterian heritage.

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2000’s

Price, John – Old Light on New Worship: Musical Instruments and the Worship of God, a Theological, Historical and Psychological Study  Buy  2005  256 pp.

Price is a reformed baptist.  Here is a review by Geoff Thomas.

“I enthusiastically recommend this book on congregational worship.  It is a great relief to have access to a scholarly modern examination of the question…  For clarity and fulness of treatment, yet at the same time for courtesy and pastoral wisdom, this short study on an aspect of the regulative principle is first-class.  I highly recommend it to church members as well as to ministers of the gospel.” – Maurice Roberts

Prutow, Dennis – Joyful Voices: A Capella Singing in Congregational Worship  Buy  n.d.  132 pp.

Prutow is a professor at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Pittsburgh, PA.


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The History of Instruments in Worship

The Early & Medieval Church

Book, Highly Recommended

Ferguson, Everett – A Cappella Music in the Public Worship of the Church  Buy

Ferguson, a renowned early Church historian, gives the most exhaustive survey available of the ancient world, the New Testament era and the Early Church era on the Greek words for singing that are claimed to inherently imply musical instrumentation.  In demonstrating that they do not, he also sets forth the dominance of a cappella singing in the early Church and the middle ages.

After all, ‘a cappella’ originally meant, ‘from the chapel’, as the chapel traditionally sang without instrumentation.  While this short book is second to none on linguistics and history, it is weak on theology.

While this book is highly recommended, the distinctives of the Campbellite Churches of Christ, with which Ferguson was associated, are not.  Interestingly, the Campbellites received their practice and viewpoint against musical instruments in worship from their previous Scottish presbyterian heritage.

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Collections of Quotes

Schwertley, Brian – pp.1-3 of Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God: the Historical Evidence  Buy  2003

Schwertley quotes Clement, Origin, Eusebius, John Chrysostom, Isidore, Augustine, Nicea, Theodoret, Thomas Aquinas, Cornelius Agrippa & Erasmus.

Quotes Concerning Use of Instrumental Music in Worship  n.d.  7 quotes from the Early & Medieval Churches, with 63 quotes from other time periods and scholars.  Note that this document is hosted the sect, Church of Christ, otherwise known as Campbellites, or, the Restoration movement.

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Articles

Schaff, Philip – ‘The Organ and the Bell’  †1893  in History of the Church, vol. 4, ch. 10, pp. 439-442

Porteous, The Organ Question, pp. 40-43

Porteous gives quotes from Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine.

Begg, James, the elder – ‘Section III – Inquiry into the Period of the Christian Church when Organs began to be Used in the Worship of God’  1808  6 pp.

Glasgow, James – ‘Early Opinions’ & ‘Later Opinions’  n.d.  8 pp.  in Heart and Voice

Kurfees, M.C.

Ch. 14, ‘Testimony of Specialists, Encyclopedists, Historians and Commentators’  1911  25 pp.  in Instrumental Music in the Worship, or the Greek Verb ‘Psallo’ Philologically and Historically Examined, pp. 69-94

Ch. 12, ‘The Claim Concerning Clement and Ambrose’  1911  7 pp.  in Instrumental Music in the Worship, or the Greek Verb ‘Psallo’ Philologically and Historically Examined, pp. 59-65

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Quote

The Oxford History of Christian Worship, ch. 30, ‘Liturgical Music’, pp. 771-772

“Only during the high and late Middle Ages (1100-1450) did any instrumental musicians gain a significant liturgical role.  Organists, in particular, acquired a firm liturgical role, but only in the West.  During this period organs gradually became a normal furnishing in many large monastic houses and large churches.

Toward the end of the period (possibly as early as the late thirteenth century) some form of playing the organ in alternatum with the clerical or monastic choir developed.  In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries specific injunctions against playing any instruments other than the organ begin to appear, showing that they also were occasionally used.  

Thus by the end of the fourteenth century or beginning of the fifteenth century, the full range of musical roles that is in use in the early-twenty-first century had emerged in the liturgy…”

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The Reformation

Collections of Quotes

Schwertley, Brian – Musical Instruments in the Public Worship of God: the Historical Evidence  Buy  2003  19 pp.

This is an anthology of 85 quotes from church history (mostly reformed church history) demonstrating its large opposition to musical instruments in worship.

Porteous, The Organ Question, pp. 43-7

Porteous gives quotes from Pareus, Zepperus, Molerus, Erasmus, Luther, Beza, Calvin and the Church of England.

Glasgow, James – ‘Later Opinions’  n.d.  9 pp.  in Heart and Voice

Glasgow, amongst others, cites Luther, Calvin, Calderwood, Bullinger, Zanchius, Osiander, Perkins, Andrew Fuller & Thomas Scott, 

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Quote

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, vol. 3, pp. 104,108

“Of all the arts, none was of greater concern to the leading reformers than music…

Instrumental music and the liturgy.

The Western church has employed some form of instrumental music in its rites since the late Middle Ages, but before 1500 only the organ has solid documentary evidence for its widespread and accepted use.  In these instances it participated actively in the liturgy but did not normally accompany singing..

Where the Reformed tradition was influential, drastic reduction or total elimination of organ music occurred.  The former was largely true for much of England, except apparently in the Chapel Royal; the latter, of course, was typical in regions of strict Reformed observance…”

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France

The First Protestant Administration of the Lord’s Supper, 1534

J.A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 2, p. 179

It was at Poietiers that the evangelisation of France began in a systematic way.  The school which Calvin here gathered round him comprehended persons in all conditions of life…  They discoursed about Divine mysteries as they walked together on the banks of the neighboring torrent, the Clain, or as they assembled in the garden of the Basses Treilles, where…  they often held their re-unions…

By-and-by it was thought prudent to discontinue these meetings in the Basses Treilles, and to seek some more remote and solitary place of re-union.  A deep and narrow ravine…  then known as the ‘Cave of Benedict,’ but which from that day to this has borne the name of “Calvin’s grotto,” was selected as the scene of the future gatherings of the converts.  It was an hour’s walk from the town…  

In this grotto, so far as the light of history serves, was the Lord’s Supper celebrated for the first time in France after the Protestant fashion.  On an appointed day the disciples met here, and Calvin, having expounded the Word and offered prayer, handed round the bread and cup, of which all partook…  The place had none of the grandeurs of cathedral, but ‘the glory of God and the Lamb’ lent it beauty.  No chant of priest, ‘no swell of organ accompanied the service, but the devotion of contrite hearts, in fellowship with Christ, was ascending from that rocky chamber, and coming up before the throne in heaven.

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The English Puritans

The Westminster Confession and Musical Instruments in Worship

Quotes

J.A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 3, p. 462

The Marian exiles [who fled England from Bloody Mary] had contracted a love for the simple polity and worship that existed in the Reformed Churches of Switzerland, Geneva, and some parts of Germany, and on their return to England they sought to establish the same order in their native land.  Aiming at this greater purity and simplicity, they were styled Puritans.

In the famous Convocation of the Lower House of 1562 [which established the 39 Articles close to their final form], the Puritan party were the majority of those present, but they were out-voted by proxies on the other side.  In that assembly they contended for the abrogation of vestments [clergy robes], copes, surplices, and organs in Divine worship; against lay baptism, and the sign of the cross in baptism…

Some of the greatest names in the Church of England of that day were friendly to the reform pleaded for by the Puritans.  Among others, Grindal, Horn, Sandys, Jewell, Parkhurst and Bentham shared these sentiments…  The aim of the Puritans, beyond doubt, was to perfect the Reformation which [Thomas] Cranmer had left incomplete.

The more eminent of [Queen] Elizabeth’s ministers of State were substantially with the Puritan party…  friendly to yet greater reform in the Church of England…  The main difficulty lay with the queen.  One of her leading aims was the reconcilement of English Papists…  she loved splendour in worship…

Horton Davies, Worship and Theology in England, from Cranmer to Baxter and Fox, 1534-1690, p. 530-1

A second characteristic of Puritan worship was its utter simplicity and sincerity.  This unostentatious and modest form of worship found its appropriate domestic setting in meeting-houses…  The Puritans refused to

let the pealing organ blow
To the full-voiced quire below
In service high and anthems clear…

in favour of the pedestrian metres of the Psalms so that all could memorize them and sing them in unison…  their sense of holiness in approaching God was so strong that they could do without any theatrical or adventitious aids which would make tawdry the splendour of the Creator’s covenant mercies to his own.

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Scotland

Quotes

Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, ‘Musical Instruments in Worship’, pp. 615-616

The Scottish Reformation saw the discontinuance of the later medieval practice of instrumental music in church worship.  In line with Reformed teaching, this practice was seen as a breach of the ‘regulative principle’ – that the constituent parts of Christian worship must be authorized by New Testament precept or example.  Consequently instrumental music in worship was ‘unknown in the [Scottish] Church since the Reformation’ (T. Leishman, ‘The Ritual of the Church of Scotland’, in The Church of Scotland Past and Present, ed. R.H. Story, V, 423).  Unaccompanied singing led by a precentor became the norm in Presbyterian Scotland.

The first recorded incident of a musical instrument being used in Presbyterian worship was in 1807, when William Ritchie, minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Glasgow, introduced a chamber organ.  The Lord Provost of the city reported the matter to the presbytery, which declared organ music in worship to be ‘contrary to the law of the land, and to the law and constitution of our Established Church’ (quoted R.S. Candlish, The Organ Question, E, 1856, 26).  A similar incident took place in the Relief Church [of Scotland] in 1829, with similar results (see G. Struthers, The History of the Rise, Progress and Principles of the Relief Church, G, 1843. 442-3).

The first organ ever authorized in the worship of a Scottish Presbyterian or Congregational church seems to have been in the North Dundas Street Evangelical Union Church, Glasgow, in 1851.  Organs also began to make their appearance in Congregational Union churches around this period, championed by W. Lindsay Alexander [a congregationalist professor, not entirely orthodox in doctrine].

In the CoS [Church of Scotland] the question was reopened in 1863, when Robert Lee introduced a harmonium into Old Greyfriars, Edinburgh, and then in 1865 an organ, as part of his liturgical reform programme.  Much opposition was aroused, but the General Assembly effectively authorized the practice in 1866 by remitting such matters to the discretion of Presbyteries.  The ‘organ movement’ gathered momentum, and by the 1870’s the use of an organ in worship had ceased to be an innovation as far as the CoS was concerned.

The most vigorous debate on the subject took place in the FCS [Free Church of Scotland].  When two Glasgow congregations petitioned the Assembly of 1882 for the liberty to use organs, James Begg submitted a formal protest, indicative of his view that such a step would be unconstitutional.  Begg and the Constitutionalists held to the old Reformed position that instrumental music in worship was precluded by the regulative principle…

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M’Crie, C.G., Public Worship of Presbyterian Scotland, 1892, p. 337

That plea [of Dr. Robert Lee, that his innovations were simply restorations of previous worship in Scotland], however, he did not advance, as indeed it was not possible for him to advance it, in defense of one of the changes he introduced into Old Greyfriars in 1863, when instrumental music was employed at the public diets of worship…  

…even the warmest sympathizers with Dr. Lee are ready to admit that instrumental music had been unknown in the Ecclesia Scotticana from the era of the Reformation.¹

¹ “…every candid person must admit that most of the changes which can be traced to his action had the Church’s sanction in some earlier period of her history.  An exception was the use of instrumental music.  It had been unknown in the Church since the Reformation, for uniformity can hardly be said to have been broken by the tentative use of it on one or to occasions in the Chapel Royal [for when the royalty of England visited] or the Glasgow Church [in 1807 & 1851]…” – Dr. [Thomas] Leishman, ut sup., p. 423

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America

Myers, Andrew – ‘The History of Instruments in American Churches’  2009  being 3 large quotes from historians/authors

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Baptists

Shifferd, Scott – ‘Charles Spurgeon Differs from Today’s Baptists on Church Music’  2008  9 paragraphs, with a quote from Andrew Fuller also


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Confessions

Hungarian  (2)

The Hungarian Confessio Catholica, 1562

ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, vol. 2, pp. 565-6

Concerning Musical Organs

It is certain that in the ancient church and in Solomon’s temple, the use of musical instruments was accepted.  Now that Christ has come, and together with the ancient priesthood and sacrifice and the representation appertaining to the Law, the use of instruments in churches has vanished like a shadow.

For the various instruments of the musicians symbolized the parts and members of the elect, i.e., that the elect must worship the Lord with heart, soul, word and in every way.  Thus David mentions every kind of instrument so that man may glorify God with all his strength, mind and members.  He must speak and sing in the assembly with delight from the soul.

For Paul would not only disapprove of the use of crude instruments, but does not permit in the church incomprehensible human words and singing that lacks edifying force; indeed, he calls them mindless that teach and sing in the assembly like barbarians in unfamiliar languages (1 Cor. 14).  The fathers teach the same.

There is not so much as a reference to the organ in the New Testament, nor of its introduction into the purer church; but it was only introduced in theatrical Masses, as if in obscene sport, by immoral priests to make clowns cut capers.  The papal chronicles attribute its introduction to Pope Vitalian [†672].  The resolutions of the councils, together with Jerome, condemn the stentorian noise in churches of persons shouting in theatrical fashion (Amos 5, 6).

In the prophets, the Lord prohibits the playing of the harp and organs, and commands that teaching be done with the human voice, not with shadows and tricks.  Therefore, they do wrong that mumble foolishly before God the canonical hours as if superstitiously chattering to themselves something of merit in the process, and who keep an organ in the sacred assembly like papists and others.  What my father has not planted will be rooted out (Matt. 15:13)…

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Documents of the Debrecen Synod, 1567

ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, vol. 3, pp. 1 & 111

Introduction to these Documents

“Three documents emerged from this synod, perhaps the most important in the history of the Reformed church in northern and eastern Hungary… the documents of this synod are the formal basis of the constitution of the Hungarian Reformed communion.”

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“Article 17

The musical instruments, however, adopted for the pantomime (saltatrici) Mass of Antichrist, together with images, we abhor.  There is no use for them in the church, and indeed they are marks and occasions of idolatry.”

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German  (1)

The Nassau Confession, 1578

ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, vol. 3, p. 515

Latin Songs and Organs

Latin songs, as well as organs (first introduced into the churches by Pope Vitellianus about 665) are for the most part abolished in the churches of this land…

But it is more profitable and more edifying when in the public assemblies, the prayer, singing, and the whole of the service of worship is performed in a known and intelligible language so that the common man is able to retain something from it, and to say Amen…

So also the superfluous and unbeneficial costs expended on organs are much better directed to other necessary causes in the maintenance of churches and schools.

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Individual Quotes

Thomas Aquinas

John Calvin

Theodore Beza

As quoted by Dr. Porteous, The Organ Question, p. 45

“If the apostle justly prohibits the use of unknown tongues in the Church, much less would he have tolerated these artificial musical performances, which are addressed to the ear alone, and seldom strike the understanding, even of the performers themselves.”

John Rainolds  1598

Paul Baynes  †1618

Rev. Joel Beeke has cited Baynes as an example of a puritan (against the majority thereof) that condoned an organ in worship, from his commentary on Eph. 5:20.  The first and second editions of this work (1645 & 1647) contain this passage.  The 3rd edition of 1658, however, does not, lending some doubt as to the original text.  For other factors involved, see this discussion at the Puritan Board.

William Ames  1633

The Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly  1644

Robert Baillie  1644
Samuel Rutherford  1644, 1646

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John Cotton

Singing of Psalms: a Gospel Ordinance, p. 5

“Objection:  These gracious effects and fruits of singing Psalms, do plead as much for singing and playing with instruments, as for singing with voices.

Answer 1:  This last effect of singing to the glory of God with our glory is peculiar only to singing with our tongues.  

Answer 2:  Suppose it were true that these effects of singing Psalms did plead as much for singing and playing with instruments, as singing with voices; yet evident it is that singing with voices had the preeminence, as that which uttering the Word of God did chiefly utter the Spirit of God breathing in it. And withal evident likewise it is that it is no impeachment to an ordinance that the outward dispensing of it may be performed by Nature and Art; but notwithstanding that it may be accompanied of God with a spiritual blessing.  

Answer 3:  Singing with instruments was typical, and so a ceremonial worship and therefore is ceased. But singing with heart and voice is a moral worship such as it written in the hearts of all men by Nature.”

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Matthew Poole

Evangelical Worship is Spiritual Worship as it was Discussed in a Sermon  1660

To the Reader

…The reader will see that I only declared my dislike of organs in our churches, and therein I think I have better authority than those that are of another mind, forasmuch as in the Homily of the Place and time of Prayer (a book established and enjoined by the laws of the land) p. 131, they bring in some superstitious persons, complaining that they could not “hear the like piping, singing, chanting and playing upon the organs, that they could before”: To this is immediately answered thus; “But (dearly beloved) we ought greatly to rejoice and to give thanks to God, that our Churches are delivered out of those things which displeased God so sore, and filthily defiled his holy House”

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p. 17

considerable inconveniences, which follow from the introduction, affectation and imposition of a ceremonial way of worship under the Gospel

2. There is a great obstruction to edification and the salvation of souls [due to the obstructing of spiritual worship and knowing God truly: spiritually as a Spirit]: Beloved, that man understands little of the worth of a soul, that does not value the salvation of one soul, before ten thousand of those unnecessary ceremonies.  Better all the organs in the world broken, all material temples leveled with the ground, all sacred garments (as they are accounted) of ministers, cast into a fire, than one soul lost.

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Samuel Annesley

Annesley was a puritan.  This is from Puritan Sermons, vol. 3.

Richard Cameron  1680’s

‘Lecture 2’ on Ps. 92, in Sermons Delivered in Times of Persecution in Scotland

The Jewish way under the law of praising the Lord was upon the timbrel, the harp, psaltery, and ten-stringed instruments, and other instruments of music that belonged to ceremonial worship that is now abolished. Christ, who is the end of the law, has torn or taken away the ceremonies of the law, and there is no warrant now to make use of the organs, as they do in the Popish Church, and in the Prelatical Church of England, and even among them that are more reformed, those over in Holland.

Oh, but we have a great advantage in being free of these!  But there are some in the other extreme, that are for no music at all, but we are to sing and praise vocally, and with the heart too.  This reproves Quakers, who make a mock at singing of psalms.  But we will let them see a fine ancient warrant for vocal music. “And be not drunk with wine… speaking to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody in your hearts to the Lord.”

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James Renwick  †1688

Matthew Henry  †1714

Cotton Mather  †1728

Magnalia Christi Americana, or the Ecclesiastical History of New England, vol. 2, pp. 266-267

“Question.— Whether Instrumental Music may lawfully be introduced into the worship of God, in the Churches of the New Testament?  Considered and answered in the following Conclusions:

I. The’ instrumental music used in the old church of Israel was an institution of God: it was (2 Chron. xxix. 25) the commandment of the Lord “by the prophets.” And the instruments are called “God’s instruments,” (1 Chron. xvi. 42,) and “instruments of the Lord,” (2 Chron. vii. 6).  Now, there is not one word of institution in the New Testament for instrumental music in the worship of God.  And because the holy God rejects all he does not command in his worship, He now therefore in effect says unto us, “I will not hear the melody of thy organs.”  But on the other side, the rule given does abundantly intimate that no voice is now to be heard in the church, but what is significant and edifying, by signification; which the voice of instruments is not.

II. Tho’ instrumental music were admitted and appointed in the worship of God under the Old Testament, yet we do not find it practiced in the synagogue of the Jews, but only in the temple. It thence appears to have been a part of the ceremonial pedagogy, which is now abolished; nor can any say it was a part of moral worship.  And, whereas the common usage now has confined instrumental music to cathedrals, it seems therein too much to Judaize; which to do is a part of the Anti-Christian apostasy, as well as to Paganize.

III. In our asserting a matter of the Old Testament to have been typical, ’tis not needful that we be always able to particularize any future mysteries of the New Testament therein referred unto; truths which were then of a present consideration, were sometimes represented in the types then used among the people of God, which helps to understand the case of instrumental music.

IV. Instrumental music in the worship of God is but a very late invention and corruption in the church of the New Testament.  The writings that go under the name of Justin Martyr deny it and decry it.  Chrysostom speaks meanly of it.  Even Aquinas himself, about 400 years ago, determines against it, as Jewish and carnal.  Bellarmine himself confesses that it was but late received in the church.

V. If we admit instrumental music in the worship of God, how can we resist the imposition of all the instruments used among the ancient Jews?—yea, dancing as well as playing, and several other Judaic actions?  or, how can we decline a whole rabble of church-officers, necessary to be introduced for instrumental music, whereof our Lord Jesus Christ has left us no manner of direction?”

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John Gill

A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, Vol. 3, ‘Of Singing Psalms As A Part of Public Worship’ (London, 1796), p. 384

5.  It is observed, that David’s psalms were sung formerly with musical instruments, as the harp, timbrel, and cymbal, and organs; and why not with these now?  If these are to be disused, why not singing itself?  I answer, these are not essential to singing, and so may be laid aside, and that continue; it was usual to burn incense at the time of prayer, typical of Christ’s mediation, and of the acceptance of prayer through it; that is now disused; but prayer being a moral duty, still remains: the above instruments were used only when the church was in its infant-state, and what is showy, gaudy, and pompous, are pleasing to children; and as an ancient writer observes, “these were fit for babes, but in the churches (under the gospel-dispensation, which is more manly) the use of these, fit for babes, is taken away, and bare or plain singing is left.”  As for organs were first introduced by a pope of Rome, Vitalianus, and that in the seventh century, and not before.


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Do Instruments in Worship Justify Separation from such Worship?

While it is wrong to use musical instruments in divine worship which God has not prescribed, most people do not have control, and hence responsibility, for their use therein.

If one does have responsibility for such, they ought to withdraw themselves from participating therein (as one ought never to knowingly sin) and to seek for its reformation according to the Word of God.

The puritans generally made a distinction, following what is found in Scripture, between wholesale idolatry and a corruption in worship.  Actual idolatry is to be separated from; corruptions in worship are not to be personally done, but are to be suffered long with and are not grounds for separation from the church or its worship.  Musical instruments in worship are of the nature of corruptions in worship, not actual idolatry.

Christians are morally obligated to attend the regular public worship of God with the Church on the Lord’s Day and to participate therein as much as possible (including offering the praise of the fruit of their lips to God, which is their individual responsibility).  To not do this is separatism, schism, and not fulfilling one’s responsibilities to worship God and to honor Christ and his people.

Hence, one ought to never sin, but also to look over a multitude of sins in love, as God does, even in worship, as God does with us.  If Christ does not separate Himself from his impure people and even their impure worship, but is amongst them even as He has promised, so should we be.

While there is the necessary (but often neglected) principle to stay long and work for reform where one is, yet, the Christian also has a lawful right and duty for the good of his own and his family’s spiritual health, and for the glory of God, to seek where he can worship God in the fullness of his appointed worship according to his Will.  It is not enough to simply abstain from what is wrong, but one must also seek to do what is positively right and required by God insofar as they are able.

Hence, if, upon reasonably doing all that is within one’s power to reform, these attempts remain resisted and ineffectual indefinitely, it is natural and lawful to seek out a church that worships in more accordance with God’s Word, to the satisfaction of our souls.  In doing so, one is not leaving Christ’s Church, but is removing from one part of the visible Church to another part of it.  Samuel Rutherford, who is sometimes misunderstood on this point, affirms this (Due Right of Presbyteries, p. 73):

“The most that these [particular] arguments of our [separatist] Brethren do prove, is but that it is lawful to go, and dwell in a congregation where Christ is worshiped in all his ordinances, rather than to remain in that congregation where He is not worshipped in all his ordinances and where the Church censures are neglect∣ed, which to us is no separation from the visible Church, but [only] a removal from one part of the visible Church to another, as he separates not out of the house, who removes from the gallery, to remain and lie and eat in the chamber of the same house, because the gallery is cold and smokey, and the chamber not so, for he has not made a vow never to set his foot in the Gallery.”

Rutherford affirms this while (in what proceeds after this quote) he yet condemns (as should we) the separatist and pure-church principle that it is morally necessary to leave and separate from an impure local congregation, one not being able to have communion with it.

May God give you wisdom in seeking to honor Him above all.  The few resources below may be of some light towards this end.

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Num. 15:22-26

“And if ye have erred, and not observed all these commandments, which the Lord hath spoken…  even all that the Lord hath commanded you…  then it shall be, if ought be committed by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one young bullock for a burnt offering, for a sweet savor unto the Lord…

And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their ignorance:

And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people were in ignorance.”

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1 Pet. 4:8

“…for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”

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Westminster Confession, ch. 25

IV. This catholic church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible.[h] And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.[i]

[h] Rom. 11:3,4. Rev. 12:6,14
[i] Rev. 2-3. 1 Cor. 5:6,7

V. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error;[k] and some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.[l]…

[k] 1 Cor. 13:12. Rev. 2-3. Matt. 13:24-30,47
[l] Rev. 18:2. Rom. 11:18-22

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James Harper  1883

Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God,  p. 105

“…there are some things which, though appointed by God and of intrinsic importance, do not so belong to the essence of an ordinance that their absence renders it utterly invalid…

Now in the sense indicated, instrumental music in worship is incidental, for we do not hold that its combination with vocal music renders the worship utterly void; yet we protest against its use as an unwarrantable element, and, on that account, a corruption of the worship.”

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Lytle, James – ‘Forbearance in Love.  When Applicable?’ pp. 127-30  1883  4 pp.  in Proceedings of the Convention of the United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God

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“And David spake to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of music, psalteries and harps and cymbals, sounding, by lifting up the voice with joy.”

1 Chron. 15:16

“…David and the captains of the host separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals…”

1 Chron. 25:1

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Related Pages

Worship

The Regulative Principle of Worship

Psalm Singing

Responsive Readings

Religious Holidays

Offerings in Worship

Creeds are Not an Element of Worship

Head Coverings

Common Cup

Table in Communion

Family Worship